Jewish Syrian, Now a Muslim, Not Allowed to Immigrate to Israel

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Syrian refugees who fled violence in Syrian city of Ain al-Arab, known also as Kobani, seen outside their tents in a camp in the border town of Suruc, Turkey, Feb. 2, 2015.Credit: AP

A Jewish-born Syrian woman, who converted to Islam when she married a Muslim man, has been prevented from entering Israel with her mother and sister - after the three of them fled the war-torn country earlier this year.

The woman, who got as far as Turkey before being notified that she was ineligible to immigrate to Israel, has since returned to Syria with her husband and his three children.

Defending its decision, the Jewish Agency said Monday that it was merely following regulations. It added that the woman was offered other options for entering Israel, which she declined.

“The Jewish Agency is only eligible to deliver immigrant visas to people eligible for this particular visa under the Law of Return,” said Jewish Agency spokesman Yigal Palmor, referring to the 1950 law that grants the right to live in Israel to any Jew as well as anyone with a Jewish parent or grandparent.

“This person was clearly not eligible because she had converted to another religion. It was suggested to her that she apply for a tourist visa at the Israeli consulate in Istanbul and then finalize her status once she entered the country or that she apply for asylum status, but she declined for her own reasons," Palmor said. "The Jewish Agency can only abide by the Law of Return, and the provisions of that law clearly exclude Jews who have converted from automatic immigrant status.”

According to a report published over the weekend in The Jewish Chronicle, the last Jews of Aleppo were whisked out of the country earlier this year by an Israeli-American businessman, Moti Kahana, known for his close ties with anti-Assad forces. The group consisted of 88-year-old Mariam Halabi and her two daughters Sara and Gilda, along with Gilda’s Muslim husband Khaled, and Khaled’s three children from a previous marriage. Gilda converted to Islam when she married Khaled several years ago. Her sister is not married.

The family made its way from Syria to Turkey on a treacherous 36-hour-journey, according to the report, where they were eventually handed over to Jewish Agency officials, who checked their eligibility for immigration.

The Jewish Chronicle noted that Kahana, who oversaw the rescue mission, is furious with the Jewish Agency for preventing the younger sister from joining the rest of her family in Israel.

In the past Kahana has organized other successful rescue efforts for Jews in troubled countries, including Iran and Syria

Since arriving in Israel about six months ago, both Mariam and Sara have been living in an absorption center in Ashkelon, where they are under the care of social workers. The Jewish Agency has denied the media access to the two women.

Although they had not converted to Islam, both Mariam and Sara, like Gilda, had embraced a Muslim lifestyle in recent years. As a result, sources familiar with the story told Haaretz that their relatives in the United States have cut off ties with them.